“I have conquered an empire but I have not been able
to conquer myself.”—Peter the Great
(pictured above is Peter’s summer home near St. Petersburg,
or Peterhof Grand Palace)
I just returned from a week’s vacation, cruising the waterways around Scandinavia and Russia. (Click here to browse all photos.)
If you’ve been hanging around No Rules very long, you probably know I have a torrid love affair with travel—as well as a paradoxical relationship with it.
On the one hand, travel is an opportunity to soul search. You get far enough away from everyday life to gain perspective. And, as a writer, you have an opportunity to observe and train your eye to see the details that other people overlook.
For instance, in the picture above (Peterhof Palace), the majesty is hard to miss. These shots are easy to take, but for me have little writerly joy in them.
The daily-life details, the texture of a place, is more what I seek, like this decoration on a lamp post in Copenhagen.
Travel is one of the first things I’d recommend to any writer in need of a reset button. And you don’t have to write when you travel—just observe. Train yourself to take pictures of details important to you. Look for and build on themes.
All this contradicts another tenet I hold onto, from Proust:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
This voyage comes to me easiest when I return home from travel. I’ve always seen my neighborhood, my city differently after a trip. It becomes more precious and unique.
But having new eyes can also happen when I have new people in my daily life, when I can re-envision or re-think a place through their eyes, and what they would see specifically or differently.
That’s why I never tire of re-watching movies and TV shows if I can share them with someone new.
For more about travel, I can’t recommend highly enough Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel. It’s on my Top 10 list of books everyone must read.
If you have ambitions to be a travel writer, then you should also get Travel Writing, 2nd edition, by L. Peat O’Neil.